From Darkness to Light: Former Addict and Survivor in Thailand Finds Hope and Healing Through Faith 

July 10, 2024

From the depths of despair to the heights of hope, this powerful story of transformation showcases the resilience of the human spirit. A young survivor from ZOE Thailand shares their journey from a life marred by addiction and abuse to one filled with faith, healing, and renewed purpose.

“My life was on a dark path. My mom was an alcoholic and she would drink so much and also physically abuse me. I was introduced to some very bad people who did very bad things. I was always hurting and in pain and I just believed that was the way it would always be. I was addicted to drugs and also sold drugs to others. 

Then I was brought out of that situation and came to ZOE. Here I found Jesus Christ. Since I have come here, I have also been healed of my depression. I know that God is continuing to heal me and helping me to change. I am not the same person I used to be. I have experienced and felt love that I have never felt before. I always thought that I was all alone but I know now that I was never alone. I know that God is always with me and that He has been with me from the very beginning. My mother is getting better and we are starting to repair our relationship. I have hope for my future and I am so thankful to my ZOE family and to God for helping me to become who I am today. I know that no matter what my future holds, I can face it because God is with me.”

From Whimpers to Smiles: A Restoration Story at ZOE Thailand

June 26, 2024

At ZOE, our mission extends beyond rescuing children from human trafficking. We also provide a safe haven for those at high risk of trafficking, including orphans without family support. Recently, we welcomed a toddler into our care, and the transformation we witnessed in just a few months is nothing short of remarkable.

One of our ZOE Thailand staff shared that they first encountered a child during a Sunday School class at their local church. The scene was heart-wrenching: the toddler clung tightly to one of our ZOE parents, face turned inward, emitting soft, constant whimpers. Though tearless, the sound spoke volumes about the fear and uncertainty this little one was experiencing. “All I could do was pray.”

Fast forward a few months to our ZOE family celebration, and the change was astonishing. The same child who once whimpered in fear now strutted around with confidence, laughing and playing without a care in the world. It was a joy to behold, a testament to the power of God’s love and a nurturing environment.

This child’s transformation is not unique. At ZOE, we’ve seen it time and again in children who come to understand they are truly loved and protected. The shift from fear to confidence is a beautiful reminder of the impact a loving family can have on a child’s life.

None of this would be possible without the dedicated ZOE parents, siblings, and extended family who surround these children with love and support. And, of course, to our loyal and faithful supporters who make this work possible.

Your support allows us to provide these precious children with the love and care they need to reach their full potential. Together, we’re not just changing lives; we’re fulfilling God’s promise of a full and abundant life for these young ones.

Thank you for being a part of this incredible journey of restoration for these young children. Your continued support helps us turn whimpers into smiles, fear into confidence, and uncertainty into God’s hope.

To give to the restoration work at ZOE Thailand, click HERE.

ZOE Invited by Father-Con As Panelist for Film Screening about Child Trafficking

June 6, 2024

Father-Con is a nonprofit that works to prevent human trafficking and empower men in the fight against trafficking, specifically fathers to strengthen their roles in girls’ lives. The organization also hosts film screenings to educate the public about trafficking. ZOE was invited as a panelist after the screening of MAYA, a new film that tackles the difficult topics of child sex trafficking, online predators, and domestic abuse. The movie follows 15-year-old Maya who seeks to escape her alcoholic mother’s abusive boyfriend, only to fall into a manipulative sex trafficking scheme after meeting a man online.

The film provides an eye-opening look at how techniques used by social media predators can exploit vulnerable teens. 

According to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there was a nearly 99% increase in online enticement reports in just the first 9 months of 2020 compared to 2019.

MAYA educates viewers on the realities that trafficking happens domestically across all 50 states, not just overseas. Thirty percent of global trafficking victims are children. This film depicts how teens from homes with domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by traffickers.

Beyond child sex trafficking, MAYA also portrays the cycles of substance abuse, domestic violence, and how trauma can get passed from one generation to the next. In the film, Maya’s mother, Camilla, struggles with alcoholism and an abusive partner, before finding her own path to recovery.

The film drives home that community awareness is needed to identify at-risk youth and provide support systems to prevent them from falling victim to abusers and traffickers. 

 

Sandy speaking to a group on a panel at Father Con.

 

During the panel after the screening, Sandy Esparza, ZOE’s Human Trafficking Prevention Program Manager and Lived Experience Expert provided the audience insights on the realities of human trafficking and what the youth are experiencing today. 

ZOE’s Media Director, Christian Toma, added, “It was so helpful to hear from Sandy and other experts share their stories of what they’re seeing in the field and how the movie touches on many of their points. It was also so encouraging to see new people learn about ZOE and get excited for the work to be done!” 

The filmmakers hope Maya’s Story will serve as an educational warning while also providing a hopeful message about resilience and recovery. By shining a light on these tough realities, the goal is to inspire more people to take action to protect vulnerable youth in their own communities.

Maya movie film poster.

MAYA is available to stream on the following platforms:

 

ZOE East Coast Trainings Foster Collaboration to Combat Human Trafficking

June 5, 2024

Recently, Sandy Esparza, our Prevention Program Manager and Lived Experience Expert, joined the ZOE East Coast team for a series of powerful training sessions. 

Sandy brought her invaluable perspective as a survivor leader to over 60 law enforcement officers, detectives, and representatives from local restoration homes and community organizations.

Both Berks and Lancaster County District Attorney offices came together and met at a local fire station for the training sessions. Sandy led intensive training for law enforcement to help them gain better insight on human trafficking victims, their experiences, and how to be more trauma informed and victim centered in their interactions with them.  

As a lived experience expert, Sandy drew from her own experiences, and emphasized the importance of building trust and nurturing relationships with human trafficking survivors through consistency and compassion.

Sandy shared, “The synergy between Berks County and Lancaster County is nothing short of remarkable. The energy, commitment, and empathy in the air were palpable, leaving an indelible impression on me. I am humbled by the incredible dedication of this exceptional group working tirelessly to uplift and empower victims.”

Sandy’s presentations created an environment of collaboration among agencies united in the mission to combat and end human trafficking and her first-hand knowledge enriched law enforcement’s understanding of survivor experiences and the need for trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches. 

Lt Nelson Ortiz, Supervisor Human Trafficking Task Force, Berks County Detectives shared, “Sandy Esparza’s willingness and ability to share her personal experience as a victim of human trafficking during our training gave those attending a clear understanding of the perpetrators’ methods of operation. We see in her words the suffering of the victims. It opens law enforcement’s eyes to clearly see the coercion, force, and psychological abuse that’s used on the victims.”

He added, “The tactics of the criminal leaves the victims feeling hopeless and worthless. They feel there is no way out of the continual abuse. Sandy’s real-life experience as a victim, motivates Law Enforcement to take a more proactive approach to the crime of human trafficking.”  

Meg McCallum, Supervising Assistant District Attorney for Berks County added,“The Berks County Human Trafficking Task Force is grateful to have had Sandy Esparza participate in our recent training. Her willingness to share her experiences so openly made an impact on each person in attendance and allowed them to truly understand the coercion and manipulation that traffickers use. By learning this firsthand, our local law enforcement now have a better understanding of how to appropriately communicate with survivors in hopes that we can build a stronger case. However, it opened their eyes that building relationships and being able to have an advocate involved to provide basic needs is part of the process and that the end game is not always going to be an arrest and prosecution.”

Sandy also gave the same training about engagement strategies to help survivors of trafficking to two local restoration homes for adult women survivors. The training primarily focused on best practices, trauma-informed care, and victim-centered support and approach.

The training opened lines of dialogue and strengthened the network of advocates, officers, detectives, prosecutors, and support services dedicated to protecting victims and bringing traffickers to justice.

Amanda Tlumach, ZOE East Coast’s Administrative and Donor Relations Assistant shared, “Sandy’s training couldn’t have been better timed. Just three days after hearing Sandy’s testimony, our team of advocates sat face-to-face with a woman engaged in the commercial sex industry. With the new insight gained from Sandy’s shared experience, we were able to acknowledge the seemingly insurmountable challenge facing this vulnerable woman. 

She could not fathom returning to a low-wage job and the reality of waiting for each paycheck. In the “life,” she can earn more money quickly and on her own terms. Despite the potential risks and hardships inherent in her line of work, the daunting steps necessary to secure a better future proved overwhelming for her. It’s why we aim to build connections and establish relationships with these women. Achieving such transformative change demands unwavering dedication and comes with significant costs. Therefore, having access to a supportive network and vital resources becomes paramount.”

Do you want to learn more about ZOE’s East Coast efforts in preventing and combating human trafficking? Click here to learn more!

How to Create a Facebook Fundraiser for ZOE!

June 5, 2024

At ZOE, we find inspiration in our dedicated and passionate supporters! Thank you to the growing number of individuals fundraising for us on Facebook.

Today, join us in rallying your community and networks to raise awareness about child trafficking and safeguard our children from harm. Here’s how you can get involved:

Step 1: Open Facebook & Go to ZOE’s page 

 

Step 2: Click “Raise Money” 

Create a shareable fundraiser that you can customize with a title, a goal amount, and an end date.

 

Step 3: Personalize Your Fundraiser!

Your friends and family are interested in you and what you’re passionate about. Personalize your message by explaining why you’re fundraising for ZOE.

Share why ZOE’s mission in reaching people with the gospel and rescuing children from child trafficking is meaningful to you. Write about how donating to your fundraiser will help end child trafficking. Don’t forget to include your goal amount!

 

Step 4: Customize Your Photo

Choose a photo that you connect with. (Facebook will load images from ZOE’s Facebook page automatically). After you’ve selected a photo, click done.

 

Step 5: Go Live 

Publish your fundraiser and share it on your Facebook timeline. And don’t forget to make the first donation so people will know you are committed to this issue.

 

Step 6: Keep the Momentum Going and Share! 

Give your fundraising efforts an initial boost by reaching out directly to your closest friends and family. Send a personal message asking for their support on Facebook. Sending a text, or phone call, can go a long way in kick starting your fundraising efforts.

Share and promote your fundraiser link frequently on your social media profiles. As the fundraiser’s end date approaches, send reminders and updates about your progress.

Also be sure to share your fundraiser link and call-to-action messages frequently on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and any other platforms where your friends and followers can easily click through to donate.

Click here to download social media graphics to use for your facebook fundraiser!

 

Shoes of Hope: ZOE Mexico’s “Sígueme” (Follow Me) Campaign Leads Children to Christ

May 31, 2024

Recently, the ZOE Mexico team celebrated Children’s Day in an incredibly meaningful way. Back in 1954, the Mexican government decided to set aside April 30th as “Día del Niño” or Children’s Day. The idea was to honor kids and promote their wellbeing across the country.

Thanks to the generous support of one of our partners, ZOE Mexico was able to purchase and distribute new shoes to hundreds of children in need.

More than just providing footwear, this “Sígueme” (Follow Me) shoe campaign carried a powerful spiritual message inspired by Jesus’s words to His disciples. As the children received their new shoes, local church leaders encouraged them to “follow” in Christ’s footsteps. The shoes represent the journey of following Jesus and being reminded that He hears and cares for even the littlest ones.

What made this outreach so impactful was that it combined our missions of evangelism and child trafficking prevention. The participating churches didn’t just hand out shoes – they committed to continued mentorship and ministry to these children after the event. By building relationships and providing Christ-centered guidance, we hope to keep these young lives on a path towards knowing Jesus’s endless love while protecting them from exploitation.

Want to learn more about ZOE’s work in Mexico? Click here! 

Bringing Hope and Resources to Trafficking Survivors during Operation Reclaim and Rebuild

May 21, 2024

Alexis is a ZOE advocate who recently had her first experience working with ZOE International’s Reclaim and Rebuild program. As part of the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, ZOE partners with law enforcement, social workers, and other government and community agencies to help recover children from human trafficking and provide ongoing support to the children and families.

While she typically works with minors who are being exploited, this was her first time interacting with adult women engaged in commercial sex work out of financial necessity.

Alexis went into the experience a bit nervous, unsure of what to expect. What she encountered was a stark reality – the vast majority of the women she met were doing this work not by choice, but simply to meet their basic needs and provide for their children. Many were young single mothers in desperate circumstances.

“It was so heartbreaking to see the desperation,” Alexis shared. “There’s just this big need out there.” Alexis was struck by how many women politely declined the offers of help and services, likely feeling there was no other choice available to them at that moment.

However, Alexis found working with the Reclaim and Rebuild program refreshing because ZOE aimed to provide immediate support and safety. Building a rapport and trust with the women, Alexis could directly ask them, “Are you safe? Do you need help right now? We can get you to a hotel tonight if you’re in danger.”

While most of the women declined assistance that night, Alexis was able to connect with one woman who seemed open to sharing and receiving help in the future. She provided her work contact information, hoping to build trust and offer support whenever that woman feels ready to pursue other options.

Alexis’ passion for this work stems from her love for people and desire to help. “I love supporting and having the opportunity to work in this field and provide some kind of support and help for these kids, just to love them…being able to share their stories and be a part of their life journey has just been a huge blessing.”

Alexis’ experience reinforced the importance of ZOE’s work to urgently address the vulnerabilities that traffickers exploit. Her compassion and persistence represent rays of Christ’s love and hope piercing through exploitation’s darkness. Every small connection plants seeds that can ultimately lead survivors toward freedom.

Right now, there are young girls trapped and in need of being rescued from traffickers. They thirst to experience “true love” that only comes from Jesus. 

Your prayers and financial support ZOE’s work in the following ways: 

  • The identification, rescue, and protection of child victims of human trafficking
  • The collaboration in rescue alongside Government and Law Enforcement
  • The assistance of child victims of human trafficking during the prosecution and citizenship process

Thank you for reaching and rescuing those in need for God’s kingdom today!



ZOE Staff Encourage and Empower Youth Through Prevention Curriculum: Becoming Me

May 13, 2024

At ZOE, we understand that many of the teens we serve have experienced significant trauma and lack supportive relationships in their lives. That’s why we’ve implemented a peer support group led by ZOE’s Human Trafficking Prevention Program Manager and Lived Experience Expert, Sandy Esparza, to help foster their self-discovery and prevent further cycles of trauma.

This group runs weekly for an hour. In addition to facilitating these groups, Sandy educates the community about human trafficking through workshops and provides victim advocacy support during law enforcement operations throughout the year.

The peer support group provides the girls with insights into their personalities, love languages, friendships, and relationships. It helps them identify red flags and analyze the dynamics within their social circles. Not surprisingly, some of the participants realized they have no one they can truly rely on.

But these groups go beyond just relationships. The sessions cover self-care, with Sandy pampering the girls with small gifts like face masks, lip gloss, and affirmation cards they can display in their rooms. The girls cherish these self-care activities and the opportunity to explore their interests through discussions about favorite foods, colors, and hobbies, something they never had a chance to think about or experience.

While some topics, like family abuse and past trauma, can be difficult to discuss at times, Sandy creates a safe space where the girls feel seen, heard, and understood. They learn healthy coping mechanisms and ways to shift from destructive patterns. She collaborates with ZOE’s Mental Health team so they can follow up on any needs in therapy.

Most importantly, these sessions foster empathy, compassion, and human connection – something many of these youth have been deprived of for far too long. As Sandy shares her own stories of survival and healing, the girls realize they are not alone in their struggles.

ZOE is committed to being that reliable and safe presence to our ZOE youth. Through these groups, we empower them to discover their authentic selves, build self-esteem, and pave the way for brighter futures filled with healthy relationships and unshakable resilience.

Learn more about ZOE’s Home for Youth here.



Reflecting on ZOE’s Advocacy Program Success

May 13, 2024

ZOE LA’s Final Graduation Ceremony and the Program’s Transformative Impact on Survivors

Five years ago, ZOE secured a contract with the Department of Children and Family Services in Los Angeles County to provide advocacy services for children who have fallen victim to sex trafficking or are highly at risk of exploitation.

When a ZOE advocate connects with a youth, their primary focus is establishing a sense of emotional and physical safety with them. Often, these youth find themselves ensnared in the grip of traffickers, where they face coercion, manipulation, and threats. 

ZOE’s Advocates learn about the youth’s immediate circumstances, their physical, emotional, and social needs, and help the youth in navigating through dangerous situations.

Through weekly in-person meetings, meals, healthy activities, or simply being present in the youths’ lives, ZOE Advocates become a mentor and safe person whom the youth can reach out to in times of need. Advocates spend most of their time on the field driving as far north as Lancaster, as far south as Long Beach, and as far east as Pomona.

A social worker shared, “ZOE has a wide range of community partners and creative solutions that I haven’t seen before that contributed to the success of the child. I enjoyed working with ZOE’s team who is dedicated to going above and beyond to help the child.”

ZOE provides formal support to the youth for up to a year and a half. For youth who complete the program, ZOE hosts a graduation celebration to honor their achievements and strengths.

One youth shared, “I want to say thank you to my Advocates because if I didn’t have ZOE, I don’t think I would be here today. I think I would be in a very dangerous situation.”

As ZOE’s contract with the Department of Children and Family Services in Los Angeles County came to an end, we held our final graduation ceremony for a couple of the youth and had a follow-up celebration inviting all the youth that we stayed in contact with and worked with in the past. We held an open mic for the youth to share about their experiences. 

Ester Yu, ZOE’s Assistant Western Regional Director, shared, “One of our girls went up and was preaching to the whole group. What she shared felt like it really exemplified the heart and the work of all the years of this program – sharing and showing the love of Jesus.”

This story, and many more heartwarming experiences that our ZOE Advocates have had with the youth, (ZOE served over 100 youth every year), is a testament to the power of God’s love and compassion working through the hearts and minds of the youth we serve. We could not do this life transformative work without supporters like you! Thank you for faithful prayers and support for these survivors.

If you’d like to continue supporting ZOE’s prevention and restoration efforts in LA, learn more here!



Harvesting Hope: ZOE Thailand’s Inspiring Progress and Impact

May 13, 2024

Recently, ZOE’s Vice President, Les Ginoza, shared encouraging updates on how your ongoing prayers and support are yielding tangible results in ZOE Thailand!

Despite the scorching heat and humidity, the ZOE Thailand team organized three weeks of outdoor camp for the kids!

“Since the kids are in school most of the day throughout the year, this time together with the kids allows us to really connect with their hearts. The ZOE team really values this time,” shared Les Ginoza. 

Another significant accomplishment for our ZOE Leadership students was the annual Leadership School graduation. What truly touched the hearts of the team was witnessing the profound impact ZOE had on the lives of five young boys who were once battling with drug addiction. 

Through ZOE’s guidance and support, these boys found hope, broke free from their chains of addiction, and now aspire to serve in ministry themselves—a testament to the transformative power of God’s love.

Another moment was a recent baptism ceremony for some of ZOE’s rescued girls. “I want to be baptized,” the girls shared with the ZOE team and they had a short service in the afternoon for the girls. The team was honored to celebrate with them in this important milestone in their faith journey. 

Another important development is ZOE Thailand’s efforts and progress in enhancing self-sustainability through the greenhouses and agricultural initiatives. Les shared, “We had some grants that recently came in and we’re in the process of building multiple greenhouses. We don’t just want to feed the team and kids at ZOE Thailand, but our heart is to get enough production for there will be an overflow and we can give to others who really need it, too.” 

Les added that just before he left for a recent trip to ZOE USA on the West Coast, the team produced more than they needed and they were able to give to other children’s homes and NGO’s nearby. “There are a lot of people who need help.” 

ZOE’s vision is to not only sustain ourselves but also to provide for others in need. As we cultivate an abundance over time, our desire is to share with the local community, through a spirit of compassion and generosity.

As the work continues in ZOE Thailand, our team is dedicated to every child’s restoration and healing journey. Thank you for your steadfast support of this life-transforming work in Thailand through your prayers and financial gifts!

To make a donation towards the work we do in Thailand, click here.



 

 

 

ZOE Japan Team Member Writes About a Way to Prevent Exploitation of Children

April 22, 2024

THE NEED FOR SEX EDUCATION By Yuri Osborne

Sextortion is a combination of the words sex & extortion.

A perpetrator would befriend a person online and convince them to send nude images or videos, and then start to threaten and force them into paying money or complying with more extreme sexual demands such as sending more sexual images or even forcing them into prostitution.

In general, most people would immediately call the police or ask for help if they are blackmailed, but when someone says, “If you don’t want your naked pictures shared with others, you have to pay up!” then there is a sense of shame mixed in. When a victim realizes that their sexual photos or videos may be released to the public, they feel a strong sense of guilt, causing them to fear reporting the incident to the police and becoming more and more isolated.

Without exception, all children that contacted our ZOE Japan hotline between July and September, refused to tell their parents or the police about their exploitation. Often, one of the reasons cited is: “I don’t want my parents to know that I am having sexual relations with others.”

How sad to think that children are victims of sexual exploitation, but feel unable to ask their parents for help or consult with police or lawyers. One of the reasons behind this is the lack of sex education in Japan.

According to one survey, about 80% of Japanese households raising children say that they do not provide sex education at home, or that they feel the need for it but do not provide it. Culturally, talking about anything sexual is taboo and is left to schools. However, policies such as “hadome” rules are enforced in schools, which means that teachers are not allowed to teach students about sexual activity itself. Things like conception and pregnancy are taught, but the process (physical sexual acts) is not explained, causing children to become curious and seek information through other sources or try to experience it themselves.

Age appropriate sex education is essential in helping children to realize what is happening to them and can even prevent them from becoming a victim of sexual exploitation. By openly discussing such issues in a safe environment at home, it can lay a strong foundation that enables children to reach out to their parents or a trusted adult when they are in a situation of being victimized.

One survivor who came to ZOE Japan for advice was routinely verbally abused and threatened by a man she met on social media, and was at the mercy of her abuser. However, she was ashamed of the fact that she had a boyfriend and sexual relations with him, and she did not want to tell her parents or teachers because she felt like she was doing something wrong.

If this child’s parents had established a relationship in which they could talk openly about romantic relationships and sex, she might have opened up to her parents, or even agreed to talk to the police (who require that parents are informed first) so that she could receive loving support, and exploitation of other children could be prevented.

Even for small children, simple instructions like: “Run and tell mommy or daddy when someone tries to touch or take pictures of the inside of your underwear, because it’s an important body part. Remember that it is not your fault” can prevent a lot of damage.



 

A Journey of Faith: Carlos’ Encounter with the Gospel at a ZOE Mexico Event Before His Passing

April 22, 2024

Recently, our ZOE Mexico team encountered a heartwarming story that unfolded at the Feliz Cumpleaños Jesús (Happy Birthday Jesus) festival in Cholula Puebla, Mexico. Carlos, around 60-years-old, attended the event and heard the profound message of salvation, which deeply resonated with him.

Two weeks later, one of the festival organizers received a call of gratitude, audio recordings, and a photograph of Carlos in the hospital from his son. 

Carlos’s son, shared the news that his father had passed away. He had checked his cell phone and found videos of the Happy Birthday Jesus Festival and an audio message for one of his close relatives that said:

“Look, I am listening to some prayers at a festival that I was invited to yesterday. I was angry, but it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is calling me, and now I know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings.”

Carlos had found solace and embraced Jesus Christ as his Savior before his death. His family expressed immense gratitude, knowing that Carlos had heard the Word of God days before he died, and recognized Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

A ZOE Mexico staff member shared, “This message encouraged us to continue reaching people for Jesus, because that man heard and received the love of Jesus at the Christmas festival.”

This powerful testimony inspired the team to continue their mission of spreading the love of Jesus. One exclaimed, “Let’s empty hell of the souls that still need to hear from Christ until the end of the world.”

Carlos’s encounter at the festival serves as a reminder of the transformative power of your prayers, and the importance of sharing the gospel worldwide! 

Learn more about ZOE’s mission to reach every person with the gospel by sharing the good news and training followers of Jesus Christ!